An array of unique off-premise packages gave the not-just-a-deli brand an edge in the catering space.
McAlister’s Deli® has long differentiated themselves from competitors in the fast-casual segment through a diverse and robust menu designed to capture both lunch and dinner crowds and appeal to a wide range of tastes. Now, McAlister’s is finding that the diversity of their menu has an added value in the catering space.
McAlister’s Deli Corporate Executive Chef Will Eudy explained that the brand’s catering services have increasingly become one of the brand’s primary value propositions.
“Extending our unique menu items to our catering services was a no-brainer,” Eudy said. “We wanted to offer the same exciting options off-site that we offer in our restaurants. What we quickly found, however, was that those unique options are even rarer and even more appealing in the catering space, where consumers are used to seeing just a few of the same old options.”
Catering sales across segments tend to spike at predictable intervals throughout the year, including holidays and sporting events, when offices, schools, and other organizations are hosting parties. Eudy says those foreseeable increases in demand for catering give McAlister’s restaurants a number of boosts throughout the year.
“It’s one thing to get a few boxes of pizza to feed people during a working lunch, but when you are hosting a party, you want to show people something new and exciting, and that’s what has made McAlister’s a big hit around holidays and other cultural events,” Eudy said. “Our catering services are a major revenue stream for stores throughout the year.”
One of McAlister’s most popular catering offerings is their cookie tray, which, like all of the brand’s catering services, is completely customizable.
“McAlister’s has a number of different cookies that we bake fresh every day, so cookie trays are really easy for us to put together and are a huge draw for parties,” Eudy said. “We’ve got an amazing selection of decadent cookies, so it’s easy for us to customize an order. When you see this package of beautiful cookies, it’s so impressive. It’s a really exciting thing to have at a party.”
Another big draw is McAlister’s portable spud bar, which takes one of the brand’s most iconic in-restaurant options, their customized baked potatoes, and turns it into a unique catering package.
“The spud bar is probably our most intriguing offering,” Eudy said. “It’s similar to a salad bar, but with baked potatoes. You’ve got cheeses, vegetables, and a number of different proteins, so guests can get their potato then work their way down the line and create something they are excited about. It’s one of the more interesting catering applications I’ve seen, and it works in a variety of venues. It can be healthy or indulgent, and it can be a snack or a meal, so it works for lunch or dinner, at a sports event, party, work event, or just about anywhere. I don’t think anyone else is doing anything like this.”
In addition to its consumer appeal, Eudy says the spud bar is easy to manage for McAlister’s owners.
“Potatoes travel really well, as do all the toppings,” Eudy said. “We already offer everything included in-restaurant, and we’ve got a streamlined system to apply that for catering. It’s really inexpensive and easy to put together.”
Of course, McAlister’s offers more traditional catering options as well. Eudy says that sandwich packages are still a popular order.
“People love McAlister’s sandwiches,” Eudy said. “As proud as we are of all of our unique menu options, our sandwiches remain among our biggest sellers. Fortunately, our sandwiches travel really well, so that’s easy to apply for catering. And we’ve found ways to get creative with it. We’ll often do a club tray, which includes a number of different styles of club sandwiches, or customers can order the exact sandwiches that they want.”
According to Eudy, McAlister’s diverse catering options are a natural extension of what the brand has always done in its restaurants.
“We’ve always been focused on offering something special and exciting, so that’s what we’re focused on with our catering options,” Eudy said. “Catering has allowed us to reach customers who may not have eaten at a McAlister’s before, and that’s something that really excites us because our catering packages leave a fantastic first impression